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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the SF Chowhound community.

Snuggly Yucca Balls

There’s fantastic food, friendly service, and a wonderfully snuggly atmosphere at Mochica, says bamabuilt. From a simple chicken casserole to a dense shrimp and cheese bisque, every dish is great. jeffypop’s favorite is the delicious pork-stuffed fried yucca balls.

There’s also great ceviche, anticuchos, and tequenos. In fact, anything with chicken or fish is terrific.

Mochica [SOMA]
937 Harrison Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Mochica’s

Beyond the Hot Pot

We have reported on the excellent hot pot at Zone 88 recently; further Chowhound inquiry has revealed the cooking to be excellent all around. With $5.50 midday specials like spicy frog, deep-fried pig intestines, and dry-fried eels, this is not your usual neighborhood American-Chinese joint, says Gary Soup. The food here is 10 times better than the other Asian food on this stretch of San Bruno, says Civil Bear.

Dave MP reports many excellent dishes, including suprisingly great kung pao chicken, garlicky bok choy, and terrific eggplant with garlic. Very enjoyable is the szechuan cold tofu—cold, seasoned tofu over cucumbers and daikons, with a mild chile oil sauce. Presentation on all items is unexpectedly beautiful. Civil Bear highly recommends the hot and crispy fried squid appetizer.

The pork spare ribs in kabocha squash were not so good on Dave MP’s visit, but RWCFoodie reports that they’ve been fabulous in the past. This may be a one-time glitch.

The dry-fried eel is superflavorful, and contains a staggering amount of river eel.

Limited English. Dave MP successfully fed five people for $46, before tip.

Zone 88 [Portola]
2428 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco

Board Links: Dinner at Zone 88–Portola, SF–Report
Zone 88: My first shot at the menu

Mossy-Textured Tofu and Greens Salad

There is a new affordable Shanghainese restaurant in the city: Flying Pan Bistro. Gary Soup is our first man in the door; he had some Shanghai standard cold dishes and says they’re great.

Smoked, caramelized fish is slightly sweet, and aggressively spiced with five-spice. Their salty duck is a very good version: lean and firm, with an easily removable fringe of fat and skin.

The true star is aster salad, “probably the best version of this disgustingly healthy dish I’ve grudgingly been brought to love,” says Gary Soup. It’s a fine hash of dry tofu and lightly pickled greens, which are sort of like daisy leaves. This version has one of the highest ratios of green to white he’s seen, and it’s chopped to the texture of fine moss. The flavor of the greens really shines through.

Flying Pan Bistro [Chinatown]
680 Clay Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Flying Pan Bistro: first nibbles

A Superb Ginseng Game Hen Soup

There is a truly superb soup at the San Mateo branch of Myung Dong Tofu Cabin, says K K. The waitress recommended it to him—she even made a Popeye gesture and told him it would make men very strong. This convinced him, and boy is he glad he caved. The soup is beautiful, a pot with a whole game hen inside, and full of pure, intense poultry and ginseng flavors. There are also chunks of crispy rice cakes, of the sort that you sometimes find in Chinese soups. The game hen meat actually falls off of the bone.

As is the custom in many Korean soup joints, the soup comes undersalted. Salt is provided at the table; use it.

Panchan here is excellent, too.

Myung Dong Tofu Cabin [South Bay]
1484 Halford Avenue, Santa Clara

Myung Dong Tofu Cabin [Peninsula]
In the Marina Supermarket
2968 S. Norfolk Street, San Mateo

Board Links: Superb Korean game hen soup with ginseng–MDTC San Mateo/Foster City

New Hue-Style Vietnamese in Oakland

Hue is sort of the culinary center of central Vietnam—known for such delicacies as gently steamed glutinous rice cakes. There’s a brand-new Hue restaurant in town, Kim Huong, and it’s damn tasty.

After only a few weeks, there’s already a big line at lunch. That’s ’cause the food is good, says zippo, like a delicate, tasty bun bo hue—the traditional Hue noodle soup of thick noodles, pork blood hunks, pork trotter hunks, and meatballs.

Mi bo kho—vermicelli noodles with beef stew—is excellent, with a bit more body and more complexity to the seasoning than most competitors, says twocents. Perhaps Pho Ao Sen’s version has a broth with a little more body, but they don’t have the fine touch with the seasoning that Kim Huong has.

This is a small, family-run operation, by first-time proprietors.

Kim Huong [East Bay]
304 10th Street, Oakland

Pho Ao Sen [East Bay]
200 International Boulevard, Oakland

Board Links: Kim Huong, Hue-style Vietnamese, opens 3/22 in Oakland Chinatown

You Have to Try These Pupusas

The pupusas at Pupuseria El Capulin are an absolutely deadly must-try, says hhc. For those of you who don’t know, pupusas are sort of thickish masa-based flat breads, stuffed with fillings, and then griddled up to crispiness. At their worst, they’re soggy balls of corn flour and grease. At their best, they’re little essays in texture—hot, crispy, scorched masa on the outside; softer masa on the inside; leading to sweetly oozing cheese or pork—sort of like chocolate falling down cake written in Latin American savory staples.

El Capulin’s are the good kind: made fresh to order, chewy and crispy in the shell, with beautifully blended fillings. They’re $2 apiece, and they’re awesome.

Carne asada tacos are also recommended.

Pupuseria El Capulin [East Bay]
7036 Thornton Avenue, Newark

Board Links: Pupuseria El Capulin, Newark report w/ pics–great pupusas & $1 tacos

Better than the Fatted Calf?!?!

This is the first time we’ve heard such a claim. For years now, the Fatted Calf has been the single most beloved, most lauded, most recommended charcuterie in the Bay Area. Hell, it’s probably the single most recommended place of any genre for the whole of Chowhound, San Francisco. But, says rworange, there’s better.

Better is Columbus Salame’s crespone—a coarse-ground, country-style salami. It’s amazing. She’s had Fra’ Mani’s salami, she’s had Fatted Calf’s, and they don’t touch this crespone. It’s made from fresh pork flavored with pepper, garlic, and wine.

While Columbus salami is available at various locales, including Costco, all of the big praise we’ve heard only comes from the stuff purchased from Vella Cheese. Vella, says rworange, is her dream of a wine country cheese shop—not fancy, just good. While you’re there, try the absurdly cheap bags of grated aged jack, and the good, nutty, sweet four-year-old Asagio. And superb butter—good enough that she actually drove out to Sonoma just for some more butter.

Vella Cheese [Sonoma County]
315 Second Street E., Sonoma

Board Links: Sonoma–Vella Cheese & Columbus Crespone artisan salami

Hard-core Thai Boat Noodle Quest

Boat noodle is a Thai specialty that is … well, it’s not for the easily frightened. True boat noodle is deeply beefy, funky, with hard assaults of tang, sourness, spice, sweet, and good. You’ll see two forms of this: beef stew style, which is a nice soup, and boat noodle style. Boat noodle style gets its characteristic cloudy appearance and extrafunky flavor from its primary thickener, beef blood. But once you’ve had it funky, you can’t go back to the clean stuff. You’re dirty forever.

Boat noodle soup, if you can’t guess, is one of Your Editor Thi’s primo obessions. It’s kind of like sucking nectar directly from the mouth of the goddess of the Thai: Everything that’s great about Thai food—the intense, searing flavors; the constant balance between almost mind-shattering levels of spice, sour, sweet, and salt—it’s all there in its unfiltered form.

twocents has been on a serious Thai boat noodle jag. He’s eaten boat noodles everywhere he can find them. His three current favorites are:

Ruen Pair boat noodle soup. Medium spicy here is quite spicy. It’s good tanginess, and comes with sliced beef, stewed beef, beef ball, and sometimes tripe. $8.

Sa-Wooei beef stew soup. This includes beef ball, sliced beef, stewed beef, and tendony bits. The broth is noticeabley sweet. $5.25 at lunch—an excellent value.

Thai Noodle boat noodle soup. This has stewed beef in large slices, beef ball, and sliced beef.

These three places all serve superior soup, and you should try all of them.

Ruen Pair Authentic Thai Cuisine [East Bay]
1045 San Pablo Avenue, Albany

Sa-Wooei Thai Cuisine [East Bay]
10621 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito

Thai Noodle [East Bay]
1936 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Board Links: Thai Beef/Boat Noodle in East Bay

Almond Croissant Taste Test

Some of our dedicated Chowhounds have hit up every pastry joint they could find, in search of the most perfect almond croissant in the Bay Area. Their favorites:

Bay Bread is dreamsicle’s favorite. Catch ’em while they’re still slightly warm—somewhere between the crisp shell and the almost liquidy filling is the tiniest gateway to heaven. You’ll find it, too, if you look. In comparison, she says, Delanghe’s famed croissant seems just stale and heavy.

cafecreme agrees that Bay Bread makes a beautiful almond croissant; there is, though, one that she thinks is even better. This is the almond croissant from DeLessio’s. The croissant is actually crispier, while still being delectably flaky and buttery. The filling is the real deal-maker—beautifully colored, beautifully textured, with the slightest hint of lemon.

Anya L also rates Bay Bread and DeLessio’s in her top five. The other top choices: Citizen Cake’s very buttery croissant with a chewier filling; Tartine’s enormous, deeply browned croissant; and Blissful Bite’s small, dark, delightfully chewy version.

Boulangerie Bay Bread [Fillmore]
2325 Pine Street, San Francisco

DeLessio Market and Bakery [Duboce Triangle]
1695 Market Street, San Francisco

Citizen Cake [Hayes Valley]
399 Grove Street, San Francisco

Tartine Bakery [Mission]
600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco

Blissful Bites [Richmond]
397 Arguello Boulevard, San Francisco

Board Links: Almond croissant taste test

South Italian Pastries, a Hidden Wonder

Sfoglia may look like an anonymous Italian bakery, but it is most definitely not. It’s packed full of southern Italian gems–cannolis, tarts, pizzettas, and more. And, report Chowhounds, everything there is at least very good; some items are spectacular.

rworange’s favorite item is the savory tart ($2.75)—a tasty, buttery tart shell, topped with a little cheese and a lot of veggies, including some tasty portobellos and truly excellent roasted peppers. Pizzettas come with excellent meat and veggie toppings, on top of a pillowy, yeasty crust.

There are also cannoli ($3), freshly fried, wonderfully crisp, and filled to order with lightly sweetened, orange-zested ricotta. They shatter perfectly with each bite, says Melanie Wong.

And there’s beautiful, golden brown sfogliatelle ($2.50). The thin, hand-pulled layers of pastry have that distinctive brittle crispness; the filling is like the cannoli’s, but with an extra, eggy richness. The cheese makes it a little soggy in the middle, which is the only thing that prevents this treat from achieving the balanced perfection of the cannoli.

The folks are friendly; atmosphere is open, airy, sunny, and distinctly Mediterranean.

Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Cafe [Sonoma County]
At the Sebastopol Antique Society
2661 Gravenstein Highway, Suite H, Sebastopol

Board Links: Sebastopol–Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Café – Easter Pannetone & La Colomba
Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Café